These are a few of my favorite things: Fountain Pens

Today is my birthday and my lovely wife has decided that it is time I stop drooling over the pretty pictures and order a custom pen from Edison Fountain pens.  I actually owe quite a bit to Brian, the owner and operator of Edison pens despite the fact I’ve never purchased one before today.  You see, I promised myself an Edison pen if I could maintain a 4.0 my freshman year back in school,  then I promised myself that if I completed my first two years with a 4.0 I’d buy a pen, and finally, I told myself that if I were to graduate with a 4.0 I’d finally have justified the cost of one of Brian’s beautiful custom pens made to my specifications.  You see, starting at $200 and easily reaching the $400 dollar range, I found that any potential purchase required incredible amounts of justification.

Now, for those of you who are wondering exactly how any writing utensil could possible justify these prices, you are in luck because the rest of this post will rehearse the joys of some of my favorite things: fountain pens.  Or, more specifically, three of the pens that have shared my day-to-day life for the last five years or so.  So without further ado:

#1 1930s Kaweco Elite (chased black celluloid) 14k double-broad nib

This pen is actually a stand in for many, many Kaweco’s pens that I used in my first few years back in school.  Kaweco is the second oldest German pen manufacturer–after Soennecken–and began life as in 1883 as the “Heidelberger Federhalterfabrik.”  My collection of Kaweco’s has tended toward those that could be picked up relatively inexpensively: the older black celluloid piston fillers that weren’t terribly ostentatious but could suck up several day’s supply of ink and wrote with a bit of flex in the nib.  The pen pictured is the best of by Kaweco’s: a 1930s Kaweco Elite  in black chased celluloid with two toned trim. The Elite was Kaweco’s top of the line and enjoyed a special embossed pattern of stair-step lines that add both grip and visual interest to this pen in comparison with the smooth black barrels of my other Kawecos.  This is a low profile pen lover’s pen: I’ve never had anyone notice it in class or strike up a conversation, and even most other fountain pen lovers are not overly familiar with Kaweco or their upper-tier pens.  I have a photograph of Martin Heidegger writing with a Kaweco Elite and writing with this pen has always given me the covert joy of using something very special that most folks would never recognize as such.

#2 1970s Lamy 2000 (fibreglass-reinforced Makrolon and stainless steel with brush finish) fine steel nib

While I maintain a stable of about thirty of my absolute favorite vintage pens and those pens do often make occasional appearances taking notes in classes or writing exams, a modern pen is often preferable to a vintage pen when the weather turns cold or one needs the sort of practicality that turns most to buy ball points.  This Lamy 2000 is one of the most recent additions to my collection at just over a year and a half old.  Lamy, like Kaweco, was established in Heidelberg, Germany, but much later by C. Josef Lamy in 1930.  In 1966, the Lamy 2000 was first sold and provided the company with the opportunity to establish the design aesthetic that it has continued to the present day.  Free-lance designer Gerd A. Müller, an advocate of the Bauhaus movement, was selected to provide the company with the initial impetus for its new deGerd A. Müllersign style and penned the 2000 as a complement and counterpoint to the overly styled office-machines imported from Italy and coolly elegant electrical and audio equipment designed in Frankfurt.  The 2000 has been continuously in production since 1966 with only the smallest of tweaks over the years and still remains the pen in my arsenal most likely to receive praise as “futuristic.”  The nib on this particular pen is fine bordering on ultra-fine and lays a very wet line making it really practical only on highly milled, good quality papers like my Black & Red notebooks.  However it does require a fast-drying ink to be truly justifiable as an everyday pen, and because of that limitation has failed to become my preferred daily writer.

#3 1998 Rotring Freeway (solid brass, lacquered blue finish) Factory medium nib re-ground as a fine stub

The Rotring company (red ring) began in 1928 as “Tintenkuli Handels GmbH” a maker of artist and designer’s stylographic pens that only later branched out into traditional fountain pens.  Stylographic pens feature a narrow steel tube that draws ink through its own capillary actions instead of employing the traditional nib and feed designs employed in fountain pens. While stylographic pens were already common in America and in fact pre-dated conventional fountain pens, they had not been previously marketed in Europe, and Rotring would eventually become the name associated with such pens throughout the world before the advent of computerized design made such pens obsolete overnight.  In the 1970s the company adopted its current name producing a both stylo pens and fountain pens in Germany until in 1998 they were purchased by the American company behind Bic pens, manufacturing was moved, and importation of Rotring pens to the United states eventually ceased.  My “Freeway” model pen was an intermediate level pen that would have originally sold for between $30 and $70 in the United States, but Sanford dumped thousands of these intermediate and higher level pens onto the market in the early 2000s so that I was able to pick up one in each of the available colors for just $11 each before they disappeared for good.  The blue pen became my constant companion through three years of under graduate writing so much so that I have managed to wear through the paint of the section and into the brass creating a slight hollow for my index finger simply because it is an excellent writer, built like a masonry outhouse, and feels great in the hand without being big and bulky.  I have nothing but praise to heap on these pens, but alas, they are incredibly rare on Ebay today despite the glut of them ten years ago.

So you might by thinking to yourself “But wait, you said you were going to explain how a lowly pen could justify a three-hundred dollar price tag!  Yet, all that you’ve done is blather on about a few of your favorite pens–where is the justification?”  The fact that I can care so deeply about three pieces of plastic and metal–learning their history and discovering their idiosyncrasies–should demonstrate why I am willing to pay so much for something so simple and seemingly trivial.  These pens are my treasured friends unlike the Bic you got free at the bank.  When I originally started writing with fountain pens, I did so only because I’d developed some arthritis in my hands from too many hours playing, teaching, and practicing drums and I’d been told that fountain pens prevented one from bearing down on the pen as I had fallen into a nasty habit of doing.  However, the pragmatic purpose of the pen was quickly outstripped by the joy of writing with something that became very personal and even intimately connected with my self-identity and work habits.  Now, one can spend tens of thousands of dollars on certain limited edition fountain pens that have developed their own speculative market, but those sorts of pens–and pen buyers–seemed to me to be missing the whole point of beautiful and functional writing: that great pens were made to belong to writers.  However, it would be a mistake to suggest that Brian Edison’s pens would fall into that category–though I’m sure if any pen is worth ten grand it would be one of Brian’s.  Each of Brian’s pens are hand-made, one of a kind items that demand both great skill and great design to properly execute and cost accordingly.  So, for the next few months I’ll be checking my email a little more regularly, walking to the mailbox a little bit more briskly, and looking forward to taking notes a little more often because, soon, I’ll have a new friend to get to know.

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One comment on “These are a few of my favorite things: Fountain Pens

  1. Robert Minto says:

    Loved this post. It made me lovingly clean and write with my own (considerably inferior) fountain pens.

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